Health, Africa

Famine, war forces South Sudan to go for bushmeat

Rebels, government troops, and even civilians are butchering antelope and other wild animals for survival: Ministry adviser

Famine, war forces South Sudan to go for bushmeat A South Sudanese kid Emmanuel Johnreceives treatment at Al Shabbab Hospital in Juba, South Sudan on February 17, 2017. Due to the malnutrition, lack of food, continuing clash and poverty, South Sudanese people, especially babies live in hard conditions. (Handout/UNICEF/Gonzalez Farran - Anadolu Agency)

By Parach Mach

JUBA, South Sudan

Rebels, government troops and even civilians are butchering antelope and other wild animals for their survival in South Sudan as the country’s man-made famine gets exacerbated by years of civil war and economic collapse.

Gen. Alfred Akwoch, former director of wildlife and adviser to the Ministry of Wildlife Conservation and Tourism, told Anadolu Agency everyone was poaching because “they have nothing to feed on, most of the fighting is in remote areas and the only available food is bushmeat.”

Famine was declared in South Sudan last month, which has so far left at least 100,000 people starving and an additional million on the brink of famine in several parts of the country, where farming has been hampered.

The mass hunger has claimed over 300 lives since the declaration of famine in the country’s northern Unity State of Ayod County, according to a local NGO, Christian Mission for Development last week.

The dire famine situation now appears to be adding to the decimation of much of the country's wildlife. But at a time when people are struggling for food, is it a luxury to worry about threats to South Sudan’s rich and diverse wildlife species?

Law against poaching

The war in South Sudan that erupted in December 2013 has left tens of thousands of people dead and forced more than 2.4 million others to flee their homes.

A political settlement signed in August 2015 was stalled when renewed clashes between President Salva Kiir forces and those backing former Vice President Riek Machar broke out last July.

But even in times of war a law against poaching exists and applies to all. However, who will apply the law when all sides are guilty of it?

Gen. Akwoch said there was in fact space for tightening the law on illegal poaching, which in its current state could be easily contravened.

He also stated the fact that although hundreds of poachers were traced by authorities, only a few of them had been brought to justice. Moreover, justice is hard to get in South Sudan, especially when there is a breakdown in rule of law and judges are either corrupt or incapable of carrying out their duty. 

Wildlife decline since 70s

Rampant poaching by armed men who not only look for the meat, but skin and tusks has nearly sealed the fate of several of animals in the country. But the phenomenon of poaching is not entirely new and, in fact, it has been ongoing for several decades.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, a partner of the U.S. Agency for International Development, South Sudan has been losing some of its wild animals since the 1970s and stands at risk of losing its endangered species if nothing is done to protect them.

Mike Lopidia, Wildlife Conservation Society Deputy country director, said the biggest threat comes from poaching and illegal sale.

Zebras, elephants, giraffes and antelopes were decreasing at an alarming rate, while forests were being cut down for charcoal, Lopidia said.

Eco-system remains intact

The size of South Sudan’s territory and comparatively lower population has ensured the survival of its eco-system, which remains intact despite the ragging violence.

The country has one of the world’s largest wetland, the Sudd, as well as a large-scale animal migration phenomena that rivals that of Kenya's iconic Maasai Mara and Tanzania's Serengeti ecosystems.

Some of the animals in these vast wildernesses have been largely protected in spite of almost five decades of civil war.

Giant herds of antelope, including Tiang, white-eared Kob and reedbuck as well as giraffe, lion, cheetah and vast bird populations have survived in the remote marsh areas of the Sudd, the world's largest freshwater swamp, in the Upper Nile and Unity regions.

Threats of extinction

The war has left the fledgling nation awash with guns, and in the years since a 2005 peace deal up to 2013 when renewed conflict erupted, organized armed groups are trafficking ivory and killing animals for food, conservation experts warn.

It is estimated that civil unrest in the troubled nation has caused a 97-percent decline in wildlife species population.

Elephant, giraffe and zebra could soon be extinct due to rampant poaching and trafficking, experts add, highlighting the fact that 500 elephants were killed, including 15 slaughtered in a single day in January 2016 during the ongoing three-year civil war.

The number of giraffes, the Wildlife Conservation Society said, also declined from 100,000 to 300.

Elephants have reduced from 80,000 to fewer than 2,500 and Tiang antelope from 2 million to roughly 160,000.

“Wildlife stock levels, already dangerously low in 2013, have suffered from additional death and displacement as a result of renewed internal conflict,” Lopidia said.

Government admits risks

Jemma Nunu Nkumba, minister of wildlife conservation, voiced concern over the sharp rise of poaching cases and admitted that animals in the country were at risks.

“There is serious rise in the illegal vice, this is a major threat to existence of wildlife in our country, poachers are taking advantage of the ongoing war killing elephants, rhinos and other wildlife due to a demand in products,” Nunu told Anadolu Agency.

He agreed there was an urgent need to address the problem. “Although the country has laws that allows no one to kill animals for any reason. Some elements still poach animals,” she said.

But who will take such “some elements” to task when it’s everyone fights for survival? No one in South Sudan seems to know.

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